Children and food allergies are a daunting mix! The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports “Food allergies are estimated to affect 4 to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults.”1 Food allergies can be not only challenging to combat, but dangerous if parents, caregivers and teachers are not aware of the foods to which children in their care are allergic. Did you know that food allergies are most common in babies or children? But adults can develop an allergy to foods they have consumed for years… at any time!
The American College of Allergy, Immunology and Asthma gives the definition of allergy on their website: “An allergy occurs when your body’s natural defenses overreact to exposure to a particular substance, treating it as an invader and sending out chemicals to defend against it.”2
Hence the allergic “reaction” to a substance–whether it is food, beverage, smoke or chemicals in the air or even medicine!
Numbering among the known food allergy offenders, FoodSafety.gov tells us, are: Milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy beans. Seeds, malt (from malted barley), food coloring and even chocolate can cause an allergic reaction! Allergic reactions in children who have consumed these foods may vary from an itching hard palate (roof of the mouth), swollen lips and/or tongue, inflamed mucosa, watery eyes, runny nose, skin rash, hives, swollen airway, to anaphylactic shock! Vomiting and stomach cramps can occur; so can shortness of breath, wheezing, repeated coughing, difficulty swallowing, a tight or hoarse throat, weak pulse, dizziness, blue-color in the face, inability to move one’s neck and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction and can often happen within minutes to hours of consuming the substance to which a person is allergic. Often, an itchy mouth after consuming a raw fruit or vegetable can signify that a person could be allergic to pollen–not necessarily to the fruit or vegetable itself.3
Sometimes children who are allergic to certain foods are also allergic to other related foods: i.e., shrimp and lobster or other seafood. An allergy to walnuts might also indicate an allergy to other tree nuts. Parents and caregivers need to listen well, when a child removes food from his or her mouth and says something like, “Mommy, my mouth [or throat or tongue] feels scratchy…” That is a pretty good sign that this is not simply a picky eater rejecting his meal. Parents and caregivers need to be present, pay attention and listen well when their young child eats or drinks something for the first time.
Food allergies are serious conditions that can be life-threatening. Most food allergies appear in childhood. If you suspect your child has a food allergy, see your Pediatrician or Primary Care Physician promptly and have them recommend an allergist. An allergist is a physician who will take your child’s family and medical history and determine which allergy tests to perform to determine if a food allergy exists. FoodSafety.gov says, “Approximately 30,000 Americans go to the emergency room each year to get treated for allergic reactions to food.”4 If you think your child is experiencing an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately!
1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC), 1600 Clifton Road, Altanta, Georgia 30329-4027 www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db10.htm
2 The American College of Allergy, Immunology and Asthma, 85 West Algonquin Road, Suite 550, Arlington Heights, Illinois 60005, acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies
4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C 20201, www.FoodSafety.gov, “Learn About Food Allergens, You Could Save A Life”, May 10, 2012.